by Gordon Martel
New York: Oxford University Press, 2014. Pp. xxvi, 484.
Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $34.95. ISBN: 0199665389
Countdown to the Great War
Martel (editor of Encyclopedia of War and Seminar Studies in History) gives us a very detailed account of the events between the peaceful Europe of June 27, 1914 through Britain’s entry into the Great War of August 4, 1914.
Martel opens with a prologue outlining the state of international relations and the evolution of the complex alliances systems that arose during “The Long European Peace.” There follow chapters on the Sarajevo event and on the immediate reaction to the murders, culminating with the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum to Serbia on July 23rd. Two chapters then cover events in increasingly more detail: “The July Crisis” from July 24th through the 31st, and “Days of Decision,” from August 1st through 4th. Martel concludes with “Making Sense of the Madness,” a look at the evolution of interpretations of the events in the decades since.
Martel’s treatment is very detailed, providing background not only on events, but also, and perhaps most importantly, on the many actors who played a role, even if peripheral, to the coming of the war. We get varying length profiles of assassins, rulers, diplomats, soldiers, mistresses, monarchs, politicians, and more. Martel cuts back and forth between these actors, to help clarify the exact sequence of events. This is of great value because at times decisions, communications and “signals” often crossed each other, leading to lost opportunities and thus contributing to the coming disaster.
The Month that Changed the World
tries not to allocate blame, as all of the nations involved helped precipitate the war, at times more through inaction than by action. This makes the book a very important read for anyone interested in the coming of the Great War and of decision making in critical times.